10 promising new TV series sprung from books

J.D. Lasica

March 17, 2021

Let’s face it. With the whirlwind of demands made on our time, it’s often easier to sit down in front of a screen to watch a show than it is to read the novel it’s based on.

But the old adage remains true: The book is often better than the movie.

So whether you want to go deep into a character’s backstory or just want to explore the subplots that never made it onto the small screen, the book is where you’ll find the whole story.

Clarice (on CBS) and Firefly Lane (on Netflix) are two of the book-to-TV adaptations that recently debuted this year. Plenty of others are coming up fast. So we’ll leave it to you whether you’d like to start with the book or pick it up once the series gets you hooked.

Here's a look at 10 novels being turned into series for broadcast, cable and streaming services for release in 2021.


1. The Underground Railroad

The train station in The Underground Railroad. (Image courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is directing an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 Pulitzer-winning novel The Underground Railroad for Amazon Studios. The story takes place in an alternate history where the 19th century Underground Railroad was a literal railroad that slaves used to leave the antebellum South and gain freedom. The semi-fantastical story follows a slave named Cora as she escapes to the North using the railroad.

Starring in the 11-episode series will be Mbedu (Is’thunzi), Chase W. Dillon (Little America), Aaron Pierre (Krypton) and Joel Edgerton. Production wrapped in September 2020 so the series is now in post-production. See the teaser trailer.

Where: Amazon Prime Video. No release date yet.

Read the book!:


2. Foundation

Years in the making, Isaac Asimov's seminal science fiction classic Foundation arrives this year. (Image courtesy of Apple TV+)

Foundation, the far-future space opera trilogy from sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov, comes to the small screen in a 10-episode series. The saga covers plotlines on multiple planets, all under the rule of the Galactic Empire. But after a 12,000-year run, the empire is headed toward collapse. Stars include Jared Harris, Laura Birn and Lee Pace. Apple TV+ chose one of the best sci-fi novels of all time as it searches for its first breakout hit, and this big-budget production should dazzle us with plenty of cool special effects. See the official trailer.

Where: Apple TV+. No release date yet. 

Read the book!:


3. Station Eleven

Gael García Bernal co-stars in the sci-fi series Station Eleven. (Courtesy of HBO Max)

Survivors of a devastating flu pandemic set about to rebuild their lives after losing everything in this adaptation of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel about a disease that kills most of earth’s population. Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire), Himesh Patel (Yesterday), Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) and Matilda Lawler star. Davis plays a performer in a theater troupe and Patel plays an outcast who must rise up to become a leader after a pandemic flu strikes. The 10-episode project is helmed by Hiro Murai, who directed the brilliant and gritty FX series Atlanta.

Where: HBO Max. No release date yet.

Read the book!:


4. Nine Perfect Strangers

Australian author Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies made a big splash with the HBO series of the same name, now about to enter its third season. (A second HBO adaptation with Nicole Kidman, The Undoing, garnered lots of buzz, if not critical praise, last year.) Now comes the new Hulu series based on Moriarty’s follow-up, Nine Perfect Strangers.

Nine strangers gather at a remote, schmoozy health resort. Amid all the pampering, mindfulness and meditation, it emerges that the resort is not what it seems. The eight-episode series was filmed in Australia last year and stars Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy, who are also executive producers, alongside Tiffany Boone (Hunters), Bobby Cannavale (Mr. Robot) and Luke Evans (The Alienist).

Where: Hulu. No release date has been announced. 

Read the book!:


5. Americanah

Book club favorite Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, who meet as teens and fall in love. Ifemelu enters the United States to attend a university, while Obinze becomes an undocumented immigrant in London when restrictions imposed after 9/11  prevent him from following Ifemelu. The tale moves across years and continents with its heartfelt theme about navigating love and race in the modern age. Americanah is planned as a 10-episode limited series. Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther) will star.

Where: HBO Max. No release date yet. 

Read the book!:


6. The Lord of the Rings

The one true ring. (Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy has seen many adaptations over the years. Now it’s Amazon’s turn to take on the classic fantasy. (No Peter Jackson at the helm, though.) The project was announced in 2017 and had a series of production delays in 2020 due to COVID.

The Amazon Prime Video series is set in Tolkien’s Second Age, thousands of years before Bilbo Baggins walked Middle-earth. The elaborate, pricey prequel is derived from the stories in The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s last work – which he considered his greatest. And no, it’s not animated. The large cast includes Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus), Peter Mullan (Westworld) and Benjamin Walker (Heart of the Sea), among many others.

Where: Amazon Prime Video. No release date yet.

Read the book!:


7. The Shining Girls

Elizabeth Moss stars in The Shining Girls, coming soon on Apple TV+. (Courtesy of See Saw Films)

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is being adapted into a series starring Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men). The plot is high concept: A serial killer in Chicago in the 1930s happens upon a time traveling device. Sounds appropriately trippy.

Where: Apple TV+. No release date yet.

Read the book!:

8. The Old Man

An ex-CIA officer living off the grid finds himself on the run from people who want to kill him in the Thomas Perry thriller The Old Man. Thirty-five years ago, as a young army intelligence officer, Chase was sent on a cover mission to Libya. Now, years later, someone still wants revenge. When the quiet Vermont retiree's identity is uncovered, a harrowing game of hunt and hide begins.

The limited-run FX series boasts a stellar cast, beginning with Jeff Bridges (also an exec producer) as the old man along with John Lithgow, Amy Brenneman and Pej Vahdat (Empire).

Where: FX. No release date yet.

Read the book!:


9. Ripley

Andrew Scott stars in Showtime’s drama based on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels. (Courtesy of Two Brothers Pictures)

A wealthy man in New York in the 1960s hires a grifter named Ripley to begin a complex life of deceit and murder. The eight-episode series on Showtime is based on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley crime series (which also served as the basis for the Matt Damon movie of the same name). Andrew Scott (Fleabag) will star as Tom Ripley. Yum yum!

Where: Showtime. No release date yet.

Read the book!:


10. The Wheel of Time

Josha Stradowski on the set of The Wheel of Time. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

Amazon is adapting Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time graphic novel fantasy series (starting with The Eye of the World) into a TV show. Amazon Studios execs hope it could turn into the next Game of Thrones. Now that’s ambitious.

Where: Amazon Prime Video. No release date set.

Read the book!:


Did you know?

four book titles

Let’s end with a quick mention of a few series that readers may not realize started their journey into pop culture as books:

  • The Bridgertons, now a Netflix phenomenon, is based on Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons romance series.
  • Little Fires Everywhere, the breakout Hulu series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, is based on Celeste Ng's 2017 bestseller.
  • You, the creepy Netflix psycho-killer series in its second season, is adapted from the Caroline Kepnes page-turner.
  • The recently ended Netflix phenom, The Queen’s Gambit, sprung from Walter Tevis's 1983 literary masterpiece of the same name.


Your move. My personal preference and suggestion? Read before you watch.

J.D. Lasica is a thriller author, entrepreneur, former book editor and Editor in Chief of BingeBooks.

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